Driving The Bus: A look at the Leafs’ new lines

On Monday, news was made when Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson decided to shake up his lines, most notably moving Tim Connolly to the wing and Nikolai Kulemin down to the third line.

I tallied up the goals, shots and missed shots for and against for every player on the Leafs, along with their offensive and defensive zone starts using the web app from timeonice.com to determine the “adjusted Fenwick” percentages of each line. Fenwick, as regular readers of this website know, is a variant of the Corsi statistic that calculates the rate of unblocked attempts at net for a player’s team when he was on the ice.

Not surprisingly, Mikael Grabovski led the Leafs’ top nine in this statistic, as the only player being over 50% (meaning the Leafs effectively out-shot and likely out-chanced the opposition when Grabovski was on the ice. He is a centreman in the mould of Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler who is strong at both ends). Mike Brown and Dave Steckel were also in the positive by this statistic, but they also face easy competition and don’t play a lot of minutes, so I’m not willing to crown them as strong two-way players just yet.

The other telling thing about this statistic is just how bad Joffrey Lupul is. With Lupul on the ice, the Leafs get outshot 696-611, to just 700-666 with Phil Kessel on the ice, despite Lupul getting 37 more shifts starting at the offensive end of the ice than the defensive end to Kessel’s 31.

Partnered with a winger in Lupul’s place to had the ability to drive possession (or a centreman), I’m led to believe Kessel would have a lot more shots created for him. As a high-volume shooter, not necessarily a high-percentage shooter (he’s one of just five players post-lockout to score 30 goals with a shooting percentage of less than 10%) Kessel needs those shots created. Simply saying that the Leafs first line generates offense off the rush is wrong. Kessel and Lupul’s shooting percentages have slowly started to drop.

The lines, reportedly, will look as follows:

Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
MacArthur – Grabovski – Connolly
Kulemin – Lombardi – Crabb

Or, to combine player’s individual numbers, like so:

Line Adj Fen% PDO
1 46.7% 102.0%
2 49.8% 102.3%
3 48.4% 100.6%

(For those new, PDO is the addition of save and shooting percentages. A high PDO will tend to drop, while a low PDO will tend to be high. Many teams that play well over a short span of games do so with a high PDO)

This is why I’m not too sure why, if you’re mixing around Toronto lines, you don’t end up with Grabovski on Kessel’s line. Even having Grabovski with Kessel and Lupul, you’re averaging an adjusted Fenwick rate of a couple percentage points higher (48.4%) which make all the difference. Partnering Kessel and Lupul together without a solid defensive anchor is a defensive mistake waiting to happen.

Again, there are chemistry and fit concerns, but I would love to see Grabovski get a chance with those two and split the time of the remaining forwards equally. With the Leafs’ inability to work the shot clock, maximizing the shooting opportunities of your team’s best forward may be the way to go. I can’t seem to get WOWY capability set up for this season or last, but I would assume that Phil Kessel is driving the bus on this line.

We’ll see what happens tonight in Calgary and if Wilson changes his mind at any point in the game.

For those wondering, here’s an updated list of Leafs’ updated Fenwick rates and PDOs. Note how Kessel is better by this measure than anybody he routinely spends time with:

Player Adj Fen% PDO
Brown 54.0% 96.3%
Steckel 53.2% 97.0%
Grabovski 52.2% 103.3%
MacArthur 49.3% 102.5%
Boyce 48.7% 98.4%
Lombardi 48.7% 97.4%
Kulemin 48.4% 102.4%
Crabb 48.1% 100.8%
Kessel 48.0% 101.5%
Connolly 47.0% 100.5%
Bozak 46.2% 102.0%
Lupul 45.9% 102.5%